When most think of an authoring tool to develop training, they think of a tool or application to create a series of interactive pages with some form of navigation for asynchronous or self self-paced interactivity with a learner.
Authoring tools to create courses come in two main categories – general purpose and specialized. General purpose tools aim to provide basic functionality for a wide range of use cases. Specialized tools are designed for specific types of content creation like simulations, virtual reality experiences, or highly interactive eLearning. (I am writing a blog post on AI in authoring tools you will not want to miss because it will give you an edge no one else has considered.)
Both approaches have tradeoffs. General tools offer convenience but can limit options. Specialized tools enable richer experiences but add complexity. The right solution depends on your specific needs and situation.
This article explores the pros and cons of each approach. We’ll cover the drawbacks of authoring in LMS platforms, the benefits of specialized tools, emerging cloud-based options, and the criteria for selecting the right tools for your needs. The goal is to provide a balanced perspective to help you make informed decisions about authoring tools and strategies from someone with close to 3 decades of experience in organizational development leadership.
Downsides of Authoring in LMS
Authoring tools built into the LMS come with the best intentions, but can be a road paved to hell. It can complicate the use and support of the LMS in several ways while also creating a potential enormous financial exposure later:
– If the authoring tool built into the LMS has even reasonable sophistication in instructional design capabilities, it potentially adds complexity to the LMS implementation and ongoing support. The LMS now has to support both its core functionality as well as the many aspects of building an interactive page. Contrast that to a company where their sole specialization is interactive course development. This increases development, testing, troubleshooting, training, and other costs associated with the LMS.
– The authoring tools may not be intuitive or easy to use for course creators compared to specialized off-the-shelf authoring tools. This can lead to lower adoption, improper use, increased support costs, and lower-quality courses.
– Complex setup may be required to create standardized templates and properly configure the tools. This setup needs to be maintained with each LMS upgrade.
– The LMS tools likely can’t support emerging content types like virtual reality lessons. This forces the use of external tools for some course content, leading to fragmentation.
– Even simple things like uploading a PDF or video may require convoluted steps compared to dedicated tools designed specifically for those content types.
– If the LMS only supports e-learning courses, additional systems are often needed for managing classroom training, virtual sessions, on-the-job training, and more. This contributes to redundant systems and makes it hard to have a single source of truth about all training.
– When the time comes to change systems, if courses authored in the LMS are proprietary and must be migrated, you easily 5x to 50x the cost of the system to deal with the labor needed to repurpose the courses into the new system in the absence of conversion tools.
In concluding this section, let me acknowledge an inverse to these points and there are some LMS systems with an easy enough authoring tool available as an interactive page builder. There are legitimate ways the tech can solve business problems, but you will be paying a premium. It’s not an efficient use of your budget when there are better options and a future migration could be catastrophic to your budget.
A useful analogy as to why not to consider an interactive page builder as part of an LMS has to do with specialization. If you needed knee surgery would you do to a knee surgeon or your general doctor. If your general doctor needed knee surgery, what do you think he/she would do?
Just Right LMS Authoring
When considering LMS authoring capabilities, there is a “just right” option that provides flexibility without over complication called course building. With course building, you create a course by assembling learning activities into a course outline. These activities can include different types of learning materials like videos, documents, PowerPoint presentations, surveys, scorm lessons, assessments, and more.
Activities can be grouped into sections, and you can set rules to control the order students must complete them. For example, you may want to lock access to future sections until the current section is completed. This creates a linear learning path through the course content. Learning is follow the numbers and is arguable better than scorm sequencing concepts because activities can be blended across different types of activities, some built in an authoring tool and some not.
This screen capture is from AbilityLMS, but plenty of other LMS systems offer course building capability too.
Course building allows you to track the completion of activities within the LMS without needing to author all the content directly in the system. You have the flexibility to use other specialized authoring tools to create bespoke learning activities such as Storyline, Captivate, Dominknow and CourseArc. Then you just add those modules into the course outline as activities.
This abstraction of content authoring from course structure is powerful. As new activity types emerge, like VR lessons or AI-driven assessments, they can be dropped into courses without changing the underlying LMS platform. You aren’t limited by the native authoring capabilities of the LMS. Activities also allow for blending. The example above shows a video, webinar and elearning course as part of a course. This sort of capability does not exist if the LMS only manages online training.
For those familiar with SCORM sequencing, when scorm lessons are treated as activities, it’s a lot simpler to implement and support and you can weave into the learning experience non-scorm activities.
For occasional course creators, course building by adding activities to a course outline, may provide the “just right” capability without the added complexity of learning how to use an interactive page builder. It also allows you to incorporate specialized authoring tools when needed for more advanced course design. The LMS should also cost less without having to support the complexity of an interactive page builder. This balance can offer a more efficient allocation of your budget while enabling both more flexibility and scalability in learning design.
Specialized Authoring Tools
There are many options when it comes to specialized authoring tools. Here is a partial list of tools, some open source (free) and other fee based:
– H5P – An open-source authoring tool that lets you create interactive eLearning content like quizzes, presentations, and games. It has a large library of pre-built interactions.
– Xerte – An open-source authoring tool to create a wide range of activities including games.
– Adapt – An open source tool to create responsive elearning with a user experience better than most paid tools.
– CourseArc – A cloud-based authoring tool focused on easy content creation and accessibility compliance. It provides terrific collaborative authoring capabilities.
– Dominknow– A cloud-based authoring tool to build dynamic courses with advanced tools to create software simulations and other apps besides just courses with terrific collaborative authoring capabilities.
– Lectora – An established desktop authoring tool with robust features for interactions, responsive design, and assessments.
– Storyline – A popular desktop tool from Articulate, known for its easy-to-use interface and interactive capabilities.
– Captivate – A tool from Adobe that provides features like software simulation, branching scenarios, and tools for creating responsive mobile content.
– ISpring – A PowerPoint plug-in that allows you to build courses directly in PowerPoint. They have a free version.
The key is identifying the right mix of authoring tools for your needs. This enables the creation of specialized content outside the LMS while using the LMS for course-building activities.
Cloud Authoring Tools
Cloud authoring tools like CourseArc and Dominknow have been around for a while. While there are other tools in this class not mentioned, I have used both of these tools and they deliver. These are the equivalent of the best-of-the-best sports cars for the development of elearning. Zoom, zoom!
Content you create has no royalty you must pay per user. As the name of this section suggests, these tools allow course authors to develop eLearning content directly in the browser, without needing to install desktop software.
Cloud authoring brings several key benefits:
– Accessible from anywhere – Authors can work on courses from any device with a browser. No more being tied to a specific machine with the software installed.
– Collaborative – These tools make it easy for multiple authors to work on the same course in real time. You can see who else is working on the course and changes sync automatically.
– No installation – With a pure cloud solution, there is no desktop software to install and manage license keys for. This removes a major headache for IT departments.
– Automatic updates – The software is always kept up to date, so you instantly benefit from new features and fixes.
– Easy review – Reviewers and SMEs can review and comment on courses directly in the browser without needing access to the authoring software.
– Built-in version control – Roll back to previous versions of a course with a click. Some tools even let you compare versions visually.
Cloud authoring offers flexibility and collaboration capabilities that were previously only possible through complex IT setups in the few LMS systems with robust authoring tools. This approach is the future for teams who want to create courses more efficiently.
CourseArc is an innovative cloud-based authoring tool that makes it easy for anyone to create engaging, responsive and interactive eLearning courses. Some key benefits of CourseArc:
– Ease of Use – CourseArc uses a simple drag-and-drop interface that is intuitive even for non-technical users. There’s no need to deal with code or complex authoring software. CourseArc’s templates and themes enable rapid course development.
– Accessibility – CourseArc enables authors to easily create accessible, ADA-compliant courses. Accessibility is built-in to the tool with many automated features like color contrast checking, alt text, and screen reader support.
– Collaboration – Authors can work together on the same course in real time, enabling smooth workflows and team coordination. Reviewers and SMEs can provide feedback directly on courses.
– Responsive Courses – Courses output responsive HTML5 that adapts across devices like desktops, tablets, and mobile phones. No special mobile course design is needed.
– Hosted Content – All courses are securely stored in the cloud rather than on individual computers. This enables anytime, anywhere access for distributed teams.
– Rapid Development – CourseArc speeds up development by allowing reuse of blocks of content across courses. Video and image libraries provide readily available assets to incorporate.
Overall, CourseArc simplifies eLearning creation so anyone can make professional, polished courses quickly and easily. Its intuitive interface and focus on accessibility make it a great choice for organizations of all sizes and budgets.
Dominknow provides maximum flexibility in course design compared to any other interactive authoring tool in the market.
Dominknow is most often compared to Storyline, and while both are premium authoring tools, Dominknow content authors have access to a wider range of interactions, simulations, and assessments than what is found in Storyline. Dominknow is also one product for pixel-perfect authoring, responsive authoring, collaboration, and software simulation whereas Storyline has several products to install and manage.
Dominknow also supports variable and conditional branching-based variable values. For non-technical folks, this means you can branch based on values supplied by the user which dramatically expands the type of learning content you can develop and is impossible in all other products on the market except for Lectora.
Dominknow’s software simulation capabilities are the best in the industry, full-stop. If you are rolling out a major software product and need to build custom lessons, you have a complete solution to build the sim, run it through SMEs who can approve the sim, and incorporate testing from the same recording with no programming. Captivate is probably the closest product, but building a Show-Me, Let-Me-Try, and Test-Me is three different production efforts, whereas in Domiknow it is one recording and you will be orders of magnitude more productive.
CourseArc or Domkinknow
It’s going to depend on the type of content you are developing. CourseArc is easier to learn and use. It’s more opinionated, and with that comes decisions you do not have to make which can help get work done faster. CourseArc also supports LTI which is an academic standard making its way into the corporate LMS, and offers more useful tracking than xAPI or SCORM in my opinion. If you are developing traditional linear courseware, and you want out-of-the-box accessibility, CourseArc will be my easy recommendation.
You can do a lot more with Dominknow so there is more to learn. It’s not harder to use than CourseArc, but because it can produce a wider class of content, there is more to it. Dominnow does a better job with the video and is easily the best tool for creating software simulations. If you need to develop a wider range of content than linear courseware, Domiknow outperforms any authoring tool on the market today.
Having worked with both companies in the past, both firms represent the absolute best of what the training industry can offer.
Right Tools for the Job
When I was first starting out in my adult life, I had the privilege of knowing an amazing carpenter. What he told me one day I have used my entire life and it applies here.
Any job is easy with the right tool.
There are so many options now for creating great training content beyond just an LMS’s built-in authoring. Whether you use a simple powerpoint conversion tool, open source options, installed desktop software, or new cloud authoring platforms, the key is choosing the right tool for the job at hand.
For quick and simple eLearning modules, a PowerPoint conversion tool may be perfect. If you need to build highly interactive simulations or VR experiences, specialized authoring software is likely best. And for collaborative course building, cloud authoring enables working together in real time.
The right authoring tool makes developing quality training content faster, easier, and more engaging. However, the wrong tool can lead to frustration, delays, and inferior results.
So consider your specific needs and goals, the types of training experiences you want to create, your team’s capabilities, and any budget or tech stack limitations. With so many authoring options available today, there is a right tool out there no matter what the training job calls for.
– Built-in LMS authoring tools can be complex, limiting, and problematic for migrating content. They complicate LMS implementation and support.
– A “just right” level of LMS authoring is course building – creating courses by adding different activities like videos, documents, tests, etc. This provides flexibility without the downsides of full authoring in the LMS.
– Specialized authoring tools provide better options for creating engaging, interactive eLearning content like simulations, VR, and more. Content is transportable to any LMS.
– Newer cloud authoring tools like CourseArc and Dominknow enable collaborative, accessible course building and simplify authoring. No software installation is needed. Content is transportable to any LMS.
– CourseArc stands out for its ease of use and accessibility features. Dominknow provides more design options and expands beyond courses.
– Using the right authoring tools for the job results in faster course development, higher quality, and lower costs. Don’t try to make the LMS tool fit all needs.
Authoring tools are a crucial component of creating effective eLearning experiences. Relying solely on basic LMS authoring has downsides in terms of complexity, flexibility, and long-term management. Dedicated authoring tools like Articulate Storyline provide powerful capabilities for designing immersive, interactive courses. New cloud-based options like CourseArc and Dominknow offer collaborative features that streamline development without the hassles of software installed locally. They also produce courses faster through leveraging real-time collaboration.
The key is choosing the right tool for your needs and budget. For simple course building, open source options and iSpring Free may suffice. But for professional development of asynchronous content, specialized tools are likely worth the investment, and emerging cloud solutions provide easier access and scalability.
As you make decisions for your organization, keep the bigger picture in mind. How can you create the best learning experiences that engage your audience? What tools will empower your team to develop courses efficiently? And how can you future-proof your strategy as technology evolves? With the right approach, you can build an authoring toolkit that drives results.
Phil Baruch is a seasoned 25+ year veteran in the Learning Management Systems (LMS) industry and is a principal partner at MaxIT Corporation. As a thought leader and innovator, Phil has consistently demonstrated a deep understanding of the dynamic landscape of educational technology, steering organizations toward effective LMS solutions tailored to their unique needs with his wealth of experience and forward-thinking approach. His extensive expertise has not only solidified his reputation as a trusted authority in the field but has also positioned him as a driving force behind the continuous improvement and innovation within the LMS industry. Phil Baruch’s dedication to advancing learning technologies underscores his commitment to fostering enhanced educational experiences and workplace training methodologies. His company website is www.maxit.com where you can learn more about his work and services.